Sour Beer: A Lesson in Time and Patience

The medals our Sour Wheat took home at the Fall MBA Brewfest: Best Sour, Best Festival Release, & Best in Show.

The medals our Sour Wheat took home at the Fall MBA Brewfest: Best Sour, Best Festival Release, & Best in Show.

“Wow that is sour” followed by “I have never tasted a beer like this before” is usually the response from first time sour drinkers. This growing style is shaking up our taste buds and changing our pallets. Some craft beer drinkers may not be as familiar with this style, or just want to learn more, so here is a run-down of the basics of what you should know about sours.

Sour beer was traditionally brewed in Belgium and referred to as Farmhouse Ales. Before commercial yeast was available, farmers who brewed beer for their local community spontaneously fermented beer in open fermenters, called “coolships,” on the top floor of their barns. Louvers were opened that allowed naturally occurring yeast from the fields and orchards to enter the room and fall into the wort and spontaneously start the fermentation process. Over time the yeast resided in the wood of the barn and would fall back into the new batch of wort and repeat the fermentation process over and over again. In essence, the entire room would act as a fermenter. Today we can recreate this process with the same yeast strain that now is commercially available. Today’s brewers age the beer in oak casks to recreate the process. The yeast will continue to live in the oak casks, so adding fresh wort or beer to the cask can get the same effects.

The sour flavor is created naturally with the yeast strain of Brettanomyces. Acidic acids form that in turn creates acetobactor and creates a sour flavor profile. The souring process can take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years to develop. The descriptors used for this flavor profile include, but are not limited to: barnyard, horse blanket, and dirty gym socks. You might think “Wow, that sounds awful,” but although the description sounds terrible the complex flavors, the wood, the beer, and the fruit together create an almost wine-like style with great character that surprises the novice sour beer drinker that it is, in fact, actually a beer. No, really… it is!

Brewers David and Tim standing on some of FLBC's newly acquired barrels.

Brewers David and Tim standing on some of FLBC’s newly acquired barrels.

Brewers have often commented on enjoying the challenge of brewing sours. Lead Brewer David Brendgard says that his favorite part of making sours is “How the flavor develops over time, going from ‘I think this beer is ruined’ to ‘this is a great beer.’” With FLBC’s enthusiastic and creative brewers who are anxious and excited to continue to create complex and interesting sours, our sour program will continue to grow and develop within our distribution region. Located along the East shore of Flathead Lake gives us unique access to locally grown cherries and other fruit that will contribute greatly to producing fine sours in the Flathead Valley. The Flathead Lake Brewing Company will continue to increase our barrel program in the Woods Bay taproom and experiment with new sour styles. We hope to soon have sour beer available in bottles and on tap at the three FLBC locations.

So, if you haven’t tried a sour yet, stop by Flathead Lake Brewing Company. We are currently featuring a sour beer during Sour Sundays at the Woods Bay taproom and will have a sour on tap at the Flathead Lake Brewing Company Pubhouse in Bigfork when it is up and running (which will be very soon).


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